Friday, February 20, 2009

Armstrong v Kimmage - soul of cycling

So Lance Armstrong has another troll to add to his list. Anyone who’s read Daniel Coyle’s excellent account of Armstrong’s 2004 Tour de France will know how paranoid the cyclist can be about people he feels are threatening to him in some way; he calls them all trolls. Paul Kimmage (who is actually a tad troll-like – sorry Paul!) confronted Armstrong at a press conference in the US earlier this week and it’s sparked the usual frenzy of Amstrong bashing/ loving and questions again about the authenticity of his wins and his comeback.

A few things first. Though we’re interested in the nuances of the world of doping in sport and have waded through many technical articles/ books on the subject, it’s not terribly exciting copy or conversation - for all the sports fans and writers who’ll lose sleep over a drugs cheat and forever know that the likes of Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds are tainted, there’ll be ten other genuine sporting people who couldn’t give a damn. Calling out Lance Armstrong as a cheat in the cycling world is like lecturing someone for being drunk in any bar in Dublin on a Saturday night. Armstrong, Basso, Ullrich, Pantani, Landis are just some of the better-known names that’ve been either found guilty or heavily linked of doping. Cycling is/ was (depending on your point of view – and Jumpthefence reckons it’s getting cleaner slowly) a world where a cartel of drug use went on, a cosy little arrangement where it wasn’t talked about but it was expected of pretty much everyone. That doesn’t make it any more right though.

Pardon us then for being a little wary of comebacks and feelgood stories. David Millar has renounced the world he was in and come back all the better for it. But Armstrong can’t really get all cranky with questioning when he’s had serious links with doctors who’ve been proven to be dopers, with teams and cyclists where it’s been endemic, when soigneurs have claimed to have seen him taking, when L’Equipe have ran stories of his tests being positive for EPO use back as far as 1999. And his hugely-publicised brainchild of a relationship with Don Catlin, the foremost anti-doping researcher around, has been shattered as unworkable for some reason.

There’s a cheerleading posse of journalists around Armstrong of course, those who simply won’t question his integrity or who see his bravery at recovering from cancer and shy away from calling attention to anything darker in his life. There’s little doubt Armstrong is a remarkable athlete, a guy who pushed himself to the limit, who’s done plenty decent uplifting things and inspired a hell of a lot of cancer sufferers worldwide. But that doesn’t make him infallible. There’s been a very mixed response to the Kimmage questioning across the cycling forums and press, some have labelled Kimmage a twisted vindictive man who got his comeuppance from hero Lance, others see Armstrong as a liar who’s being exposed.

Paul Kimmage has taken on the mantle passed by David Walsh as questioner-in-chief. Kimmage has a rep as a cranky divil himself, a spiky confident chap who’s certainly not afraid to put the unmentionable question out there and see what mischief he can stir up. He sees himself as fighting the good fight - and though he can come across as bitter and a little obsessed at times, for the most part, he’s doing a worthy cause, being a good journalist and asking the right questions. (The cancer remark he made in an interview on Armstrong’s comeback was unfortunate and in bad taste rightly enough.)

Jumpthefence would like nothing more than to believe in Lance Armstrong. But when you’ve been stung many times (thanks Floyd Landis!), all the promises and denials in the world tend to mean squat and you fall back on proof, on evidence and on facts. Sport needs heroes and feelgood but it needs truth. Now, in these times, perhaps we need truth and honestly and real questioning over blind faith, more than ever.

Have a look at their spat in part here
And ESPN's take on it here

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